MEET DAVID COPE: Composer of Quintessence's Hansel & Gretel
Writing music for a play like Hansel & Gretel is an organic process, according to composer David Cope. When he first got a copy of the script from director Alexander Burns, David saw suggestions for titles of songs interspersed throughout the script. The Witch sings one of those songs, In My Kitchen, during a pivotal scene in which she reveals her secrets, providing Gretel with insight and motivation.
“Later that day, as I was driving around in my car, a jazzy, James Bond, flashy thing came into my head for In My Kitchen. I was singing it all the way home and I set it to music that night. I knew Anita Holland would be singing it and I envisioned her in that role. I’ve heard her voice, of course, and that helped me see what she could do with it,” he said.
"Alex suggested titles for 11 or 12 songs for Hansel & Gretel. After I start thinking about what would work here and there, we discussed it. Then I made up demos for him to see what he thought. We then gave the songs to the actors and performers and maybe changed keys here or there, speeded up the music or slowed it down, that sort of thing. For this production, we actually had a musical director in the cast, Faith Fossett, who was crucial in teaching the actors their parts and rehearsing the songs with them,” he added.
Hansel & Gretel can be a scary story but David believes that the music he created for the play lightens up the storytelling for the kids, while entertaining the adults. “The song In my Kitchen is not foreboding or dangerous or anything like that. The lyrics are full of double entendres, but the kids won’t get that; they’ll just get the enjoyment and fun of the music. I want the children to have a good time and leave humming a tune,” he said.
David has been making music since his early days singing in the children’s choir at St Paul’s Church in Chestnut Hill. When he graduated from Germantown Friends, he was offered several scholarships to study opera but instead he chose to attend Wesleyan University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music in 2001. There he studied an eclectic mix of piano and voice, composition, classical, jazz and world music. “I also studied South Indian vocal techniques, a course which was very eye-opening in a lot of ways, very difficult, and a real departure for me,” he said.
He has studied with renowned teachers, including Tanjore Viswanathan, master vocalist and flutist in the South Indian classical tradition; respected classical composers Harold Boatrite and Neely Bruce; and legendary ragtime pianist Don Kawash.
David’s CDs, demos and home recordings can be found on iTunes and Spotify. Go to his Facebook page for information on his latest projects, including LeBon LeBon, which he describes as a blend of pop, novelty new wave, electro and R&B styles.
David’s relationship with Quintessence dates back to 2013. “Alexander Burns reached out and asked me to compose the music for Diary of a Madman. Since then, I’ve written music for a bunch of other productions at Quintessence,” he said.
David currently teaches music at the Boys Latin Charter School in West Philadelphia.
Click here to listen to the demo recording of David singing In My Kitchen.